Johnstown music lovers have a busy weekend ahead of them, as the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival returns to hold its annual court in Peoples Natural Gas Park.
This year’s festival welcomes new faces, as well as returning acts ready to prove their staying power.
Count on a warm reception for blues-belter and Flood first-timer Carolyn Wonderland. The nationally-touring singer/songwriter/guitarist from Austin, Texas, has garnered acclaim for exhibiting a mighty vocal command over any style of music she tackles.
Wonderland has not played extensively in central Pennsylvania, but she said a bandmate has a connection to Centre County.
“(I’ve) played around Allentown, Philly and Pittsburgh sporadically over the years … haven’t played much in the ‘center,’ ” she said. “Every time we drive through, Cole has us stop in Bellefonte to visit the hospital in which he was born.”
“Cole” is Cole El-Saleh, Wonderland’s keyboardist who has been by her side for “better than 15 years.” Kevin Remme rounds out Wonderland’s band on drums.
While Wonderland’s stage presence has left audiences in a trance for nearly two decades, she has also been praised for her humanitarian efforts. She frequently collaborates with a loose collective of Texas gospel musicians called The Imperial Crown Harmonizers to “raise money for everything from food and shelter to hearing aids and clothing.”
“The lesson I took from playing with the Harmonizers,” Wonderland said, “Is that even if you’re poor, you can still join forces with others, raise money and lend a physical hand, all while having a good time, sharing music and connecting with your community.”
Though Wonderland and national acts Big Head Todd & The Monsters, J.J. Grey, and G Love & Special Sauce sit atop this year’s bill, the spotlight will also be on the bands of Johnstown’s music scene that make up the bulk of the festival roster.
For these local artists — both seasoned and up-and-coming — the means are modest but their commitment to musicianship is unmatched.
“We work fulltime and enjoy playing music in our spare time,” said Jen Harnett of her quartet, TREE.
Since forming in 2005, TREE’s boisterous blend of traditional Celtic music, bluegrass and rock has been a popular draw. The group played Flood City in 2009, and have placed among the top three bands in Johnstown Magazine’s “Best of Johnstown” poll for the last four years.
“As with … most local music scenes, there are many bands and only so many venues,” Harnett said. “We are grateful to be playing in the region as much as we do. We are all looking forward to playing our hometown festival ... we hope to make some new TREE fans who will come back to another show.”
Also making a return to Flood City are Johnstown indie folk-rockers The Crew of the Half Moon. The duo of Dan and Kate (as they are mononymously known) played the 2013 festival in support of their debut album ‘Automythography.’
Today, this ‘Crew’ numbers three — drummer Claire helps to give the group’s numbers more cutting, robust arrangements.
“The conceptualization of the lyrics hasn’t changed, but we can get a good bit heavier than we could before,” Kate said.
The Crew of the Half Moon is a literate group (their name is derived from Washington Irving’s famous story of ‘Rip Van Winkle’) and Kate delivers her evocative, slice-of-life tales with a stunning vocal tone — think Grace Slick after toughing out a month’s worth of double shifts at the factory.
“Often times it will start out from personal experience or an image I really like,” Kate said of her songwriting process.
“The next verse might just be pure fiction. So, I’d say it’s a pretty even balance between both things I know about and things I pretend to know about. However, Dan and I have been co-writing a good bit for our next album (‘Blanket Fort Radio’) and I feel like a lot more fictions evolve when combining two people’s separate ideas.”